Forum aims to help sexual minorities share thoughts
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Writing has often served as a tool of empowerment for the marginalised - women, racial minorities and political dissidents - throughout history.
But of all the repressed groups, the sexual minorities - gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgendered people - are probably some of the biggest beneficiaries of this tool because of their inherent invisibility.
In the 1980s, East Tide, founded by an activist and author using the name Samshasha, was the first 'same-sex love' publication to circulate surreptitiously in Hong Kong. And, since then, more authors of gay-theme books such as Chou Wah-shan and Anthony Man Ho-fung have surfaced, writing about everything from the fluidity of sexuality to the struggles in coming out.
Their work served as valuable resources of information for those who felt that they had to keep their sexual orientation a deeply held secret from others because they were uncertain of the consequences that revelation might bring to their careers and harmony to their families.
With the blossoming of the internet, writing on sexual minority subject matters has flourished online and sexual minorities seem to have more room to speak out and share thoughts.
On March8, a forum will be held at the Fringe Studio of the Fringe Club in Central as part of the 2008 Man Hong Kong International Literary Festival to discuss gay culture and what the label implies.
We caught up with panel guest Peter Moss to discuss the subject. Born in Allahabad, India, Moss spent his childhood moving between various British colonies, principally in Bengal. At the age of 15 he began working as an apprentice journalist.
In 1965, he arrived in Hong Kong, where he has lived since, to join the Government Information Services, pioneering many of Hong Kong's major public service campaigns. He was awarded an MBE for his service.
He has published an autobiographical trilogy: Bye-Bye Blackbird: An Anglo-Indian Memoir, Distant Archipelagos: Memories of Malaya, and No Babylon: A Hong Kong Scrapbook in addition to five novels. One of them The Singing Tree was described by The New York Times as 'a little gem'. His latest is The Age of Elephants.
Let's start with the big question: Is there such a thing as gay literature?
It certainly seems to be recognised as a genre, but one which, on the whole, appeals almost exclusively to the gay community. To be labelled as a 'gay writer' would therefore seem to limit one's reach into the wider readership market. I suspect that most writers are vain enough - and I know I certainly am - to decline that label in favour of the broader definition.
Do you think writing can be a tool for coming out? I imagine it can, although it wasn't in my case. I was a writer long before I stepped gingerly out of the closet. The reason for the latter stemmed from my desire to write an autobiography spanning my personal experience of the demise of the British Empire over half a century. I felt I couldn't confess to being an Anglo-Indian product of that empire without also admitting to being gay.
How is your ethnic background relevant to your sexual orientation?
There is a connection. Admitting to being Anglo-Indian was about as bold a step for me as admitting to being gay. I was the first in my family to do so. My elders, born of an age when that description carried a stigma in the eyes of the caste and class ridden British Raj, were in denial of their mixed ancestry. In fact when the first volume of my autobiography appeared they were more shocked that I had revealed my 'touch of the tar brush' than they were by my acknowledgment that I was gay.
On a personal level, has your sexual orientation played a significant part in your writing? Although an objective critic might argue that it has, I am not aware of its influence on my writing. Sexuality is a theme that seldom rears its provocative head in my books. While admitting I was gay in my three volumes of autobiography, and occasionally recalling my experience of being so, that aspect has on the whole played a fairly minor role, both in my writing and in my life.
Do you see gay literary works as a reflection of sexual minorities' lives or are they more than that?
The majority of the gay literary works I encountered in my youth - whether biography, autobiography or fiction - tended to produce unhappy endings, almost as if a disapproving society were looking over the author's shoulder and expecting as much.
This is an outcome that I am happy to see is very much on the decline. Nowadays the general acceptance of the gay community is so widespread that it is no longer fashionable to classify a work as 'gay literature', and thereby exclude it from the mainstream.
What do you see in the future of gay literature, in the sense of what role do you see it play in the lives of sexual minorities? Gay literature is no longer the safety valve it once was for the repressed minorities of the more developed countries, although it may well remain so in those that have not progressed to the same point as we have in the west.
On the whole it is no longer a guilty pleasure to be indulged in secret and concealed in plain paper jackets.
However I have to concede that it will continue to play a very important role in less advanced communities, among which I include some of our neighbouring countries.